The DA FLEX Playbook for SAFe

This section of the portal is for supporting the Disciplined Agile Value Stream Consultant Workshop (DAVSC), currently under development. Discussions on the pages here will take place on the Disciplined Agile LinkedIn group.


Many companies have found SAFe to be effective in creating a way for their siloed groups to work together. Many achieve improvement, but many also don’t, or have initial improvement followed by falling back to a level near where they started. The DA FLEX playbook for SAFe is an application of the DA FLEX Playbook for those who have implemented SAFe.

You can see a preview of the playbook which includes several key concepts that are missing in SAFe by going here

You can see a video of the playbook here.

The DA FLEX Playbook for SAFe

The DA FLEX Playbook for SAFe is designed for those who have started with SAFe and want to improve and accelerate their gains or get out of the stagnation many fall into. The playbook walks participants through a step by step process of improving any SAFe implementation. It builds off the progress that has been made while providing concepts missing in SAFe that are essential at scale. These concepts are then used in ‘plays’ to improve your implementation.

These plays enable an Essential SAFe implementation to expand to the portfolio without having to resort to SAFe’s complicate portfolio level. A more effective yet simpler way to cover the entire value stream.

The FLEX Playbook is designed to be implemented in 4 overlapping phases.  This enables you to control your rate of change while tailoring it for your needs. The result is a simpler, more effective approach. The playbook’s effectiveness has been demonstrated by a several SAFe consultants who have taken these ideas from Net Objectives or Lean and applied them on their own.

The playbook has four areas of focus:

  1. Improve in place
  2. Restructure teams within the program and shorten the time of the increment planned for
  3. Align teams to business stakeholders and implement agile budgeting
  4. Lean management and guided continuous improvement

The interrelatedness of the phases

Each phase sets up the next. However, an organization does not need to finish one phase before going on to the next. Usually the work done in one phase will allow part of the organization to go to the next phase while the earlier phase is continued.  For example, after implementing MBIs and DPTs for a value stream it is very likely it can be pulled out of the train to be a separate development group with its own budget.

Phase 1: Improve in place

Use new FLEX concepts and a few plays to improve SAFe’s core practices.

  1. The role of the Disciplined Agile Stream Consultant for SAFe
  2. The FLEX Playbook Approach. The playbook provides an overview of how to apply plays to an existing SAFe implementation to improve it.
  3. Understanding Our Inherent Problem. We typically manage in a hierarchical structure but our work flows across the organization. All Agile at scale approaches must deal with this challenge. It sets the stage for how the business organization and development/service organization must have different structures.
  4. View SAFe from a value stream perspective.  In this topic, we present SAFe from the perspective of the value stream. It enables one  to see the delays, handoffs, handbacks and poor process present. This perspective enables better decisions on how to improve the workflow. This includes attending to the inherent problem of hierarchy vs value stream. Note: The term ‘value stream’ here used Lean’s definition which has a value stream refer to the workflow.  SAFe’s “long lived value streams” refers to stable teams working on related value streams. To avoid confusion I refer to value streams with stable teams working on them as “value streams with long lived teams.”
  5. Showing the what and why of the DA FLEX Plays on the SAFe Value Stream
  6. The Minimum Business Increments (MBI). MBIs are the smallest increment of business/customer value that can be created and delivered to customers for which they can realize value. MBIs are a critical artifact in that can be used to define releases. They can be used to simplify portfolio and product development.
  7. Play: Use MBIs in product management. MBIs contain all the information required to build a new capability that requires multiple teams or ARTs.  It can act as a coordinating artifact.
  8. How to map your value stream and why it’s so important to do so.  Value streams mapping can be used to identify most of the challenges you face.  See Value stream mapping  and Why Looking at Delays in the Value Stream Is So Important.
  9. Play: Adopt true ATDD / BDD If you haven’t adopted ATDD or BDD yet, now is the time. If you have, make sure you have learned how product owners, developers and testers do it together. SAFe’s training does not require the involvement of product owners, which diminishes its value.
  10. Play: Improve the program increment planning event using MBIs and focusing on dependencies.  Also, look for improving the allocation of people to the workflows. See Running Effective Planning Events
  11. Play: Have shared services work as a professional service provider. Many times the best way for shared services to support teams is to loan people to them for the duration of a value stream.
  12. Play: Improve cross-functionality of teams. After a planning event, the combination of dependency identification, MBIs and what makes for better teams enables improving the cross-functionality of existing teams even if focused solution teams are not workable yet. See

    Focused Solutions Team

Phase 2: Restructure teams within the program and shorten the time of the increment planned for

Use Lean thinking and deep understanding of workflows to decompose ARTs into dedicated product teams.

  1. The goal is not coordinating teams but the decoupling of teams.
  2. The Focused Solution Team. A focused solution team is a group of people organized in sub-teams that have the capability of creating an MBI for a product and are dedicated to working just on the MBI
  3. Play: Use focused solution teams to go beyond the initial gains of SAFe. DPTs enable reducing dependencies between teams, shorter planning cycles and an alignment of people to products. This and the earlier step of adopting ATDD/BDD often go well together.
  4. Play: Have Shared Services and Enterprise Architecture be provided as Professional Service Providers. Make the development teams be as cross-functional as possible.
  5. Play: Shorten Program Increments Over Time. As teams become more decoupled form each other it is possible to have smaller, shorter planning events with fewer teams in each.

Phase 3: Align teams to business stakeholders and implement agile budgeting

  1. Play: Use strategies, initiatives and MBIs to implement the higher levels of SAFe in a simpler more effective manner. Many organizations start and stop with Essential SAFe because the higher levels are too complicated to adopt. But the concepts and actions at these higher levels are essential (pun intended) for most organizations, even small ones.  MBIs provide an opportunity to implement the entire value stream, even for smaller organizations,
  2. Play Set: Create a network of semi-autonomous, cross-functional team or groups of teams using focused solution teams.
  3. Play: Align network to business stakeholders. This implements John Kotter’s dual operating system that SAFe suggests.  To achieve this you need to decompose your ARTs into focused solution teams.  This also allows for Agile budgeting.

Phase 4: Lean Management and Guided Continuous Improvement

Disciplined Agile and FLEX provide guidance via Lean, Flow, Theory of Constraints and other principles that enable adopters of SAFe to refine their implementation. SAFe’s canned solutions regarding train and the formation of who works on value streams is useful as a start but provides less guidance than available to continue improvement.

  1. Play: Implement the Disciplined Agile promises. These 7 promises are to be made by all roles in the organization and lay out how people are to work together.
  2. The role of management from a Lean perspective. It’s not enough to tell managers they need to support their people, they need to know how to do this in an Agile environment.
  3. Play: Guided Continuous Improvement. A quick introduction on how the Disciplined Agile Toolkit can guide organizations further in their journey.

Background / Parallel Learning

The workshop covers the most essential materials concepts needed. However, it can’t cover everything. Fortunately, conveying much of this information can be done via articles and short videos.  See DAVSC Background and Parallel Learning for more useful information to go deeper into the material covered in this workshop.

If You Haven’t Started a SAFe Adoption But Are Considering It

You can jump straight to a Disciplined Agile approach without SAFe, or use SAFe as a backbone while adding many of the concepts and plays / play sets here right from the beginning.  Most important, however, is to recognize that one size does not fit all.   Also, while SAFe typically starts with the teams and then adds levels to them, it’s usually better to start with full value streams.  You can often start with FLEX’s simpler portfolio and product management approach as well. Also, make sure you start with Acceptance Test-Driven Development with product owners, developers and testers collaborating.